3 January 2024

Mental wellbeing should be for life not just on Blue Monday

a cloud with five rain drops pouring out of it.

What can leaders do to support a mentally healthy workforce?

The third Monday of January has been coined as being the most depressing day of the year and has been given the rather dreary title of ‘Blue Monday’. While part of the reason this came about was as part of a marketing stunt from a travel agency, the fact that so many of us relate to feeling the January blues suggests there’s some merit to the idea. 

Whether you believe in the theory of Blue Monday or not, what is true is that the holidays can be a highly stressful time for many people and that can really put a dent in our wellbeing at work.  

Christmas can come with a lot of pressure such as trying to find the perfect gift, strained family gatherings, media bombardment of perfect happy holidays and financial pressures, which can chip away at your mental health.  

However, one of the positive things that has come out recent challenges is that now, more than ever, there is a global consciousness and awareness of the importance of our physical and mental wellbeing.  

Employers have realised that having a mentally happy healthy workforce builds business resiliency which ultimately allows businesses to weather the storm of uncertainty and change.  

What is the number one asset of your business? Your people. Research has proved that when you have healthy, happy people at work, your organisation or business is much more successful and effective. As a leader you should put mental health and wellbeing as a top priority within your business 

Supporting colleagues and employees with their mental health starts with the seemingly simple act of asking someone how they are doing in an authentic and warm way, signalling to them that you are coming from a sincere place. Leaders play a crucial role in creating a work environment which is safe and comfortable for people to express their feelings about the state of their mental health. 

While mental health awareness is on the rise, it’s important to understand that employees may struggle to talk about depression and anxiety even with their own family and loved ones. Talking about wellbeing at work is even more challenging.  

With Blue Monday on everyone’s minds, what practical things can we do to support employees keep their mental wellbeing high. 

Wellbeing at work all year round, not just Blue Monday

Commit to developing and implementing mental health at work policies that are relevant and inclusive of all employees. Make sure there is buy-in at levels around the importance of mental health. Senior leadership middle managers should walk the talk as these leaders through their actions and words can create a healthy culture that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing at work.  

Keep reviewing and measuring the impact of your workplace policies around staff mental health, promote what works and be open to change what isn’t working. Your business could also support national and local initiatives around mental health, which all adds to developing a workplace culture in which it is easier to speak and be open about wellbeing at work. 

Make time

As leaders we all have busy schedules and never-ending to do lists but there is a time and place for everything. We have all probably experienced that feeling of wanting to speak to someone about something that is personally very important to us, and the other person just seems to be distracted or in a rush.  

It’s not a nice feeling!  

Make sure that you have scheduled an appropriate time and place, where you are not going to be distracted by your phone or other notifications popping up and you are able to give the other person your undivided attention. This will do wonders for any anxiety they might be feeling about the situation. 

Practice active listening

We’ve all had conversations with people who are barely paying attention, or occasionally let our own minds wander. 

When having conversations about mental wellbeing, it’s vital you practice active listening. Give the other person the appropriate amount of eye contact, showing through your body language such as nods and hand gestures that you have understood and empathise with what is being said. 

You should also acknowledge what has been said. You can do this by repeating back what has been said to check that you have understood correctly and to ask the appropriate clarifying questions if needed. When you actively listen to your employees that alone can have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. 

Ditch the fix

When somebody comes to you with their problems it can be tempting to start to offer solutions to try to fix the situation. As a leader of course you want to offer reassurance and encouragement to the other person but do so with sensitivity and awareness. Sometimes our own judgements can creep into our conversations.  

We look at things through our own lens and the way we might respond in a certain situation but remember you are not the other person and the other person is not you!  

Try to not judge the situation and be aware that the other person may just need space to vent what is happening to them rather than be seeking solutions. However, they may welcome helpful suggestions once they feel they have been listened to. 

If you’re not certain, gently asking if they would like advice or just to be heard can go a long way. 

Check in regularly

It is important that you check in with employees and colleagues formally and informally to find out how they are getting along and if they require any further support. Never make assumptions about the state of somebody’s mental health, often people can seem fine on the surface but could be suffering from poor mental wellbeing which if left unchecked can eventually bubble to the surface and impact their work. 

Support on-going training

Often managers do not have the appropriate skillset to deal effectively with employees who may be experiencing mental wellbeing challenges. Despite an improvement in mental health awareness, there still exists a lot of misinformation and prejudice. It is important that line managers and senior leadership go through the appropriate training around mental health awareness. This will make them more empathetic and engaged managers. 

Provide professional support

Developing mental health champions or mental health first aiders within your business can be a useful solution. But it’s vital you keep in mind also that they are not a replacement for real support from a qualified mental health professional. 

At times an employee’s mental health challenges will require more than just support within the workplace and will require the help of medical professionals such therapists. Making these easier to access, whether that’s through health insurance policies, or through allowing reasonable time off to attend appointments.  

Final thoughts

Blue Monday may have started as an old marketing gimmick, but in more recent years its become a way to open up a lot of vital conversations about wellbeing in the workplace. How will you help employees beat the January blues in your workplace, and will you keep it up all year long? 

If you want to find out more, download our guide to mental wellbeing at work below. 

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Hiten Bhatt

Hiten Bhatt

Hiten Bhatt is a guest writer for MHR, a Coach, and an Author on the subjects of Wellbeing, Leadership, and Personal Development.

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